Category Archives: Preschooler

Q&A: Chopped liver?

Meggimoo writes:

“My 2-1/2 year-old son adores my husband. I’m happy about that. I’m ok with taking the back seat since the 1st year of his life he only wanted me (and my breasts). But for the past 6 months, and with no end in sight, it’s not just that he prefers my husband. He actively does not want me to have anything to do with him if my DH is within 500 feet. I can’t put him to bed, I can’t sing him songs at night, I can’t change his clothes, ad infinitum. Of course, I still do these things when necessary, but they’re met with the utmost protest. If my DH is not around, my DS will grudgingly allow me to be in his presence

I’m trying to be mature about this (ahem) and not feel hurt. That works most of the time. But sometimes I just wonder when/if this stage will end. Is this it? Am I just not going to be a preferred member of his posse forever more? I had always heard that boys adored their mothers. Has anyone out there gone through this and come out the other end? Did their sons (or daughters) begin to gravitate toward them again? I guess I’m just thrown by the suddenness of how this all occured. I feel like the new wife my DH just married, trying to win over his toddler. But, hello! I pushed you out with no drugs, dammit. (Hmm, I’m beginning to sound like MY mother.)


So you know it’s normal, but it still hurts. I remember it vividly, and it hurt me, too. Heck, it still hurts now when they see their dad and run off to him and leave me hanging. (Of course that may also have something to do with the inherent weirdness of our co-parenting in a completely different–and probably healthier–way than we did while we were still together.)

And it really feels like you spent so much of your life giving and giving and giving and now he doesn’t want anything to do with you. It would be one thing if he was ready to go out of the nest completely, but the switching alliances to his dad while you’re still there just stings.

Two thoughts (and then I’m leaving for the airport):

1. I think it’s a biological thing. At this age, many mothers are having another child, so it makes total sense for the child to be programmed to prefer the dad at this point, so the mother can focus on the new baby. Even though there’s no new baby, his developmental stuff is still going on as programmed. Maybe you could get a cat, or take up a new hobby to keep yourself busy until he comes out of this phase.

2. It does change. At some point in the future he’ll want you again, and may even tell your husband, “No, I want Mom!” and refuse to let anyone else touch him.

I don’t want to miss my flight, so I’ll turn this over to the readers. Anyone else feels just hurt and insulted by this phase? When did it end?

Q&A: stuttering in toddlers/preschoolers

A few weeks ago, my youngest one (he turned 3 in May) started stuttering. At first it was cute, but now it's getting a little bit annoying because he gets so annoyed by it. I'm not worried about it, because it seems clear to me that it's part of the disequilibrium phase Ames & Ilg talk about in their 2-year-old and 3-year-old books. It came out of nowhere, and is happening simultaneously with a huge growth spurt (I think he's grown 2 inches in the past two weeks) and a bunch of new skills and a cranky, brittle stage.

Once again, it appears I'm not the only one. Kathy writes:

"My almost 2 ½ year old son hasbeen a really good talker for the last 4 months or so.  Vocabulary was going
well and he was easy to understand.  Then he started stuttering a week and a
half ago.  He’d just gone through a growth spurt and then began sleeping
5 hours straight and even through the night on occasion (something new for us,
and I have no idea if it is related to the stuttering).  Then about a week
later the stuttering started.  At first it was him repeating the word “you”
at the beginning of the sentence.  Then it was a few more words at the start of
sentences.  Now it’s all through his speech.  We corrected the first
couple of days, then found out not to do that, just be patient and talk slowly
yourself.  The doctor didn’t seem concerned at this point, and said if he
is still having trouble at three, then they will review it then.

Is it really that normal?  He gets so frustrated, and
even will hold his chin like he’s trying to stop himself from stuttering. 
It is really hard to watch.  There are times when he will even break down and
say he can’t do it.  I am looking for any tips on what to do and or
expect from this."

It's so normal, but so frustrating, isn't it? To reassure you, it is all about the growth spurts and developmental things. He'll be really smooth at some times and then jerky and clumsy at others. The stuttering is part of that.

I wish I knew what to do to help him. My guy's old enough that he can still make himself understood past the stuttering, but with such a new talker it's a different ballgame. Does anyone have any tips for Kathy to help her and her son get past this phase? I've just been ignoring it, but it also isn't as cumbersome for my not-so-little guy.

Potty training when you can’t control all the variables

It seems like the parenting zeitgeist is all about potty training lately. I got three questions on the same day about potty training last week, and have been thinking about it a lot myself lately because my son will be three in May and isn’t out of diapers. Then yesterday I spent the afternoon with my BFF and her husband and son, who is almost three and still not completely potty-trained.

As long-time readers know, my older son pretty much potty-trained himself. He started wanting to try it at 16 months and was just really into all things potty. He’d be our bathroom attendant and hand us the toilet paper, stop to observe dogs pooping and peeing on the street, and watch the Bear in the Big Blue House "Potty Time" DVD on a continuous loop. He was in underpants by 27 months during the day, and by 32 months at night.

So I’ve got nothing, because I didn’t really do much of anything other than go with his interests.

The younger one is more of a challenge, though. His personality is completely different, and he really isn’t convinced there are any benefits to being in underpants. Plus I’m at work all day now, so I don’t have the same ability to control the situation on a micro level. And it’s harder to just leave him in underpants all day and not worry about accidents, since we have to leave the house more to work around his older brother’s school schedule.

We’ve talked here about potty training several times in the past few years, and as usual you guys have been a font of information and experience. I’d like to open up another discussion about it, but pick your brains for ideas about training a non-only child who is at the whim of an older child’s schedule, and also for training a child (who isn’t so sure about it) when there’s a childcare issue involved.


The 2 1/2-3 year sleep regression

Can we just talk about this sleep regression?

I talk a lot here about the 4-month sleep regression (when you feel bewildered and bleak), the 8-9-month sleep regression (when you feel defeated and hopeless), and the 18-month sleep regression (when you feel insulted and irate). But I haven’t talked much about the 3-year sleep regression. We’re in the middle of it here (although he won’t be 3 until May), so i thought maybe some of you would like to complain along with me.

The other sleep regressions seem to be characterized by frequent wakings throughout the night, but this 3-year one seems to be all about not going to sleep at bedtime. When he first goes into his bed at 8, and is still awake at 9:45, it starts to piss me off. There’s only so much water a kid can drink, the monster-scarer is in full effect, the temperature is fine, and no you cannot come out and read with me. And, what’s more, your brother needs to stay asleep so he won’t be tired for school tomorrow.

Honestly, at this point I don’t even care if the little one actually goes to sleep, I just want him to be quiet so he won’t wake up his brother. (The progressive lowering of standards also seems to be characteristic of the 3-year sleep regression.)

What I’ve finally come to is that I can provide him the opportunity to sleep, but cannot make him do it. We have a temporary peace with his staying in his bed quietly (so he doesn’t wake his brother) and my not caring if he’s asleep or not. I definitely don’t think it’s something he’s doing on purpose. I think it’s the same thing that happens at the other sleep regressions–the kids are working on something mentally or developmentally, and their bodies and minds just simply can’t sleep right then.

This too shall pass.

Anyone else want to complain about the 3-year sleep regression? (And, moms of older kids, is there one coming at 6 years?)

Business travel suggestions for leaving kids

Overheard on the bus. One old lady to another: "You have five grandsons! How many do you really need?!"

Laugh? Cry?

Too much to do, and not enough time, so you guys are getting the short end of the stick.l Sorry about that.

Can we talk some more about business travel and leaving your kids? I haven’t traveled in months, but have to go away for three nights next week. It’s getting harder and harder to leave my 2 1/2-year-old. He gets more and more upset that I’m gone.

Here’s what I’m doing already:

  • Leaving in the morning instead of the night before, so that I can see the kids and have breakfast with them.
  • Calling every morning so they hears me before they starts their day. Then calling again before they go to bed.
  • Talking about where I’m going ahead of time and finding pictures on the internet so they can picture it in their minds.

What else do you have? I only have to go every few months, but it’s beginning to really suck, even when the actual trip for me is fine.

Q&A: Do I have to go outside?

If you watched "Persuasion" last night on PBS, check out the piece I wrote for the blog.

Christiana writes:

"I am 33 weeks pregnant with my first child and have been reading books/websites on pregnancy, breastfeeding, and child-rearing for awhile. I love Ask Moxie and am hoping you can help with my current question that I haven’t yet seen in any of my books.

I’m not an outdoorsy person. At all. Never really have been, though I remember spending the normal school-time amounts of time outside, going to parks, etc. as a child. But I was always of the opinion that if I could have the choice of indoor or outdoor activities, I would always choose indoor. (Part of this may be attributed to my extremely fair skin that would burn easily and I have always lived in FL so sun and heat have always been a big part of the weather here, but part of it was just my personality. I don’t like heat, to sweat, to get dirty, etc.)

But I know it’s healthy for kids to spend time outside and not cooped up indoors 24/7. So what do I do about exposing my child to the great outdoors while not driving myself insane? I’m obviously capable of slathering on my own sunscreen at this point in my life, so I’m not quite as worried about getting my own self sunburned (and I know there are plenty of parks and the like that have a ton of shade to keep the sun away from the children). Am I one of the few mothers that deal with this issue, or are there plenty of others who can’t really bear the thought of spending tons of time outside with the bugs, the dirt, the heat and the like?"

I am fair-skinned and light-eyed and burn easily, so I hear you on the sun aversion thing. And I’m not crazy about bugs and sweat, either.

The good news about little kids, though, is that for a long time they don’t really care where they are, as long as they’re with you. And then by the time they’re old enough to care, they’re taking naps during the hottest time of the day. So you can be outside playing in the morning, but then by 10 or 11 you have to go inside so you can have lunch and then have naptime. And by the time naptime is over the worst sun of the day is over.

If you do have to spend time outside in the sun and heat, your own problems with it will probably help you know how to pace your child. Both of my own kids would just play and play outside until they keeled over from heatstroke, so I think my built-in annoyance with too much sun was good for them. They learned pretty quickly that after awhile out in the sun at the playground we’d go inside to have an ice cream, and I’ve never had more than a slight pinkness on either one of them. You’ll be happy to be so aware because it’ll help you avoid problems.

Every locale has areas that parents and kids congregate in to beat the heat, whether it’s the public library, a chain bookstore, an indoor farmer’s market, big box retailers, museums, the mall, or any other big building. If you can learn to balance time in these big spaces with outdoor time at non-peak hours, your kids will be happy as clams and never notice that they’re not spending eight hours at the playground.

People in hot climates: What do you do to beat the heat, since you can’t stay in your houses 24/7?

People in cold climates: What do you do when it’s cold, so you don’t end up with cabin fever?

(One of my favorite indoor places in NYC is Chelsea Market, between 15th and 16th Streets and 9th and 10th Aves. It’s just a big long food court, but there are plenty of nooks and crannies for kids to play in, an amazing ice cream place, and enough other food that you could spend the entire day there eating.

Another one of my favorites is the Natural History Museum, because it’s just so cavernous, and kids love all the dioramas and the dinosaur bones.)

Q&A: sarcasm or something

Natalie writes:

"Our kids are preschool age, and my husband uses what I think would be
sarcasm with them all the time….maybe it is just plain teasing.  You

He does things like this: He will be playing "chase" with
them (which I appreciate), but then when they run into their rooms to
hide, he will knock on the door, and yell, "Grandma is here!" When they
open the door, all excited, he will grab them and say, "I gotcha!"
Repeat this about ten times with ten different exciting promises (ice
cream, grandpa, candy, etc).  The kids get really excited, and then
realize he is teasing.  He also does this the opposite way, by saying,
at around 4 pm, "Well, it is time for bed", and one of my kids will be
to the point of tears, and then he’ll say, "Just kidding!"  Repeat five
times.  When I tell him to stop, he says, "Think how happy they are
when they see that I am kidding!  Hee, hee!"  He really is doing it to
have fun. 

I want you and your commenters to
tell me what you think:  Is this just plain kidding and I am just too
sensitive?  Or is it more than that?  What do you think?"

I think it’s mean. But I think it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t have any idea that it’s mean, because someone pulled that same crap on him when he was a kid and told him it was normal and he was being "too sensitive" if he didn’t like it. Alternately, it’s possible that he’s got some unconscious resentment toward the kids at this stage because he was treated meanly when he was that age, and so it’s coming out in this too-harsh treatment of them.

Don’t get me wrong–I love sarcasm and funny teasing that lets the kid in on the joke. (An example of that is answering a kid’s question with something so exaggerated that the kid knows you’re teasing and thinks it’s funny. "Mom, where are we going after school?" "First we’re going to buy some space suits, and then we’re going to drive to the moon!" Assuming the child is old enough to know that you can’t drive to the moon in a regular car.) But the teasing your husband’s doing isn’t letting the kids in on the joke. It’s just setting them up for disappointment and teaching them that they can’t trust what he says.

I have no idea how to resolve this situation. You could try giving him a taste of his own medicine, but telling him you were making his favorite meal for supper, or that you’d gotten a raise at work, or that you were dying to have a quickie right then, and then saying "I gotcha!" Or sit him down to tell him you’d gotten a letter from the IRS and you owed $50,000 in back taxes and penalties, and then say "Aren’t you happy to see that I’m kidding? Hee, hee!"

But something I can’t put my finger on really does make me think that he’s striking out at the kids like this because of some hurt that was done to him when he was this age that he may not even realize happened. I don’t know if giving him a taste of his own medicine is going to help much if he’s still carrying that hurt around in him. Maybe you could start a conversation about things that adults did when you were little that you hated. (I can start: There was one distant relative we’d see a few times a year who would always offer to pour a drink for me and say "Say when," and then when I’d politely say, "Thank you" he’d keep pouring until the drink overflowed and then say, "You didn’t say ‘when" and give a big laugh. Jerk.) It may come out without his realizing it was there.

Anyone else? Do you agree with me that this is more harmful than funny? And what can Natalie do to stop it before it seriously harms her husband’s relationship with their kids?


Readers have questions, but I don’t have answers

Maybe you guys do have some answers for us.

T writes:

"i have a 16yr old step-daughter & a 9yr old
son,is it right, legally, for them to share a

I  think that probably varies by state or province law. But I don’t know for sure. I do think that probably a 16-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy are going to be a better room-sharing match than two 16-year-old girls, or two 9-year-olds. But that has nothing to do with the legality. Anyone know? T, if you’re reading this and want to update on what state/province you live in in the comments, that might be helpful.

Jill writes:

"We have new neighbors with little boys the same ages as mine.  They’ve
been playing together outdoors and having a great time.  Then yesterday
I noticed a pile of toy guns joining the game.  My boys have never been
allowed to play with guns, even squirt guns.  I’ve told them that I
think its a bad idea for kids to play with a toy gun because they might
see one that they think is a toy and then find out (the scary way) that
it was real.  But, in someone else’s house, I’m not sure I have any
control.  Should I prohibit my boys from using them?  I’m not even sure
I can.  My kids are 3.5 and 6.5."

I wish there was just one good answer for this question, which I think comes up every day all over the world.

I think squirt guns are fun. But I don’t want my kids to think real guns are cool, so I don’t want them to play with toy guns. But squirt guns are fun. And kids make toy guns out of anything (sticks, French fries, their fingers).

So, yeah. I don’t know. I’d rather have my kids playing with brightly-colored, obviously toy squirt guns than ones that really look like real guns. So maybe that’s the solution. But maybe not. Anyone else?

And last but not least, a barbaric yawp from a frequent commenter who I’m keeping anonymous:

just re-read your review of the Ames & Ilg 3 year old book.  To
give me moral support.  Since I have been dealing with a bratty, rude,
obnoxious and very verbal 3 year old (who seems to save her very worst
behavior for me, and 2nd worst for my husband) for over 6 months now.

To have a girl who was a delight for the first 3 years of her life
become like this is horribly depressing.  And to hear her behaving so
sweetly with the babysitter in the next room while I just struggled
with her for 2 hours is almost more than I can take.

That’s it.  I guess at least I’m not the only one."

At least now you know the bad-with-mom-but-great-with-the-babysitter thing is normal. Seriously, that book is the only thing that made me think I wasn’t a horrible parent at that age.

I certainly don’t have any parenting answers. But I do want to say that it gets better. And that I think that in a lot of ways, this evil 3 stage is practice for the teenage years, so if you can think of a way to try not to take it personally, you’ll help yourself not only now, but also when she’s seized by whatever awfulness happens when she’s 14.

Anyone else?

Helping a 3-year-old with a parent’s serious illness

K writes:

"My husband has just been diagnosed with a very advanced stagecolorectal cancer, and we are in that horrid little wait between
diagnosis and CT scan results and the beginning of chemo/radiation.

daughter is 3 years old in 2 weeks. I am trying to educate myself about
the cancer and the treatments, how to help my husband and support his
healing, but my question to you all is: How can we help our daughter?
She already knows that daddy is in pain and that sometimes he needs to
cry and that often he goes to the doctor, but she is finding it hard to
understand that daddy cannot play wildly like before and that sometimes
mommy and daddy are having serious conversations and sometimes we are

So she is angry and difficult and she needs everything to be just
so. We have 5 weeks of intense treatment coming up and this will just
be the first little step in a long and difficult process. What can we
do to help her? How can we help her later in the process? I am looking
for any experiences and ideas of how to help a child deal with serious
illness, death, grief… I will be happy for tips on reading and well,
anything really.

one additional aspect of my question i just realized is that our daughter is
turning away from her dad, not wanting to cuddle, often turning her
back to him during dinner etc. you can imagine how sad that makes her
dad and it really makes it clear that we need to help her understand
all this or at least deal…

Oh, K, I am so very very sorry for all of you that you are going through this.

I wish I knew what to say and do. I think this post-3-year-old stage can be hard enough for parents and kids to negotiate together, so adding all this on top is going to make things even more difficult for you.

I wonder if it would help to enlist family and friends to help entertain your daughter. Maybe ask if they could take her on outings with their children, playdates, and things like that. It will give her other things to think about and do, and will give you and your husband some time to be able to break down if you need to without having her there.

Readers, do you have any suggestions for K? This is way out of my scope of knowledge.

Q&A: 3 1/2-year-old reverting to wetting the bed

Kecia (another pretty name) writes:

"I need HELP!!!! (please)

My son is 3 1/2.  He has been potty
trained since he turned three.  At about 37 months, he told me that he
didn’t not need a diaper during the night.  I was reluctant, but
decided to give it a try, as his diaper was often dry in the morning.
For nearly two months this worked perfectly.  Not one accident!!

He would drink a 6 oz yogurt smoothie
during his bedtime stories and I would give him water when he went to
bed.  He would sleep for 9+ hours and wake up with a very full bladder
(and pee in his potty).

In late August, we were traveling and he
wet the bed (two nights in a row).  When we returned home, things
improved for a few weeks and then he had several nights of accidents
again.  The situation has continued to deteriorate.  In the past month
he has had an accident every few nights.

I am so tired of waking in the middle of
the night to change his clothing, his bedding, etc.  I want to help
him, but I don’t know how.  The strange part is he seems to have these
accidents without a full bladder.  Some nights his pajamas and pants
are only very damp – not soaked. On nights when I limit liquid
consumption and have him pee before going to sleep, it seems he is more
likely to wet the bed.  This can happen as early as midnight, maybe 3
hours after he last urinated.  I have also tried to wake him during the
middle of the night and have him pee, but this doesn’t seem to help.  I
usually find that he is already wet.  Now when he wakes up in the
morning he doesn’t even need to use the potty!  What is going on?

He has only had one daytime accident over the past few months.

What do you think?

Do I go back to diapers?  Do I continue
to do three loads of bedding every time this happens (comforter,
mattress protector, sheets and pajamas)?"

Aha. It’s the 3 1/2 thing. Did you by any chance read my review of the
book Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy from a few weeks ago? The part of my review that’s salient to your problem is here (Isn’t it just so classy when I quote myself? Sorry about that.):

Ames and Ilg observed that for kids this age, things seemed to run on a
6-month cycle of equilibrium and disequilibrium. So for awhile children
would be fluent and cheerful, coordinated, learning new things all the
time, and happy little kids doing things smoothly. Then they’d go
through a period of being physically clumsy, stuttering, being in foul
moods, and just having things go wrong a lot of the time. According to
them, this is normal, so knowing that will help you wait out the
periods of disequilibrium, and not get freaked out by things that are
developmentally appropriate but seem like regressions (like stuttering).

It sounds to me like that’s exactly what happened, that he was in a
smooth state of equilibrium when he got out of the diapers at night,
but has now moved into the stage of disequilibrium and he just can’t
control his body like he used to. The pendulum will swing back to
smoothness in a few months.

So the question is, what do you do in the meantime? I think I’d ask
him what you should do together. Explain to him that it’s just normal
that he’s going through a stage in which his body isn’t stopping the
pee like he wants it to, and he’ll be able to stay dry again in a few
months, but not right now. Ask him if he wants to go back into PullUps
at night (that would be my vote if I were you, but I think you really
need to make this as easy emotionally on him as possible, so giving
him a vote will help a ton) or if he can get up and change his own
pajama pants in the middle of the night. If he wants to stay out of
diapers, you should try to put as much of the clean-up on him as is
reasonable (maybe give him a layered bed with towels and protective
pads layered so he can just take the top one off after he changes
his pajamas, and no comforter).

I’m going to guess that faced with the alternatives he’ll chose
PullUps for the next few months.

Don’t worry that going back into diapers means that you failed and it’s forever and you’ll
send him off to college with a pack of jumbo size PullUps. It’s just
part of the ickiness of being 3 1/2. And yeah, you could try all the treatments for bed-wetting like the alarms, acupuncture, chiropractic, biofeedback, etc. But all those things are really for bigger kids who are still wetting the bed, not kids his age. Besides, by the time you messed around with all that stuff he’d probably have grown into the next stage of equilibrium anyway.

So just know that there’s nothing wrong with him, and this is a laundry problem instead of anything else, so treat it accordingly. You’re doing a good job.